edible traditions

From Bavaria to Bonnies

By / Photography By Chris Cassatt | March 10, 2017
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Gretl Uhl at her Aspen Mountain restaurant, circa 1985.

Aspen’s Iconic On-Mountain Restaurant

Mention “apple strudel” and “Aspen Mountain” in the same sentence, and anyone familiar with the town will immediately think of Bonnie’s Restaurant. But both the pastry and the mid-mountain eatery can be credited to German immigrant Gretl Uhl, who opened the establishment in 1966.

“The cozy alpine hut is directly over an old mine in Tourtelotte Park and will be entirely manned by housewives of Aspen!” read an Aspen Skiing Company opening announcement.

Uhl’s tenacious spirit can be traced back to her Garmisch/ Partenkirchen roots. She spent her childhood outdoors on skis, and indoors at her mother’s restaurant, Caffé Hartl. In 1939, the Nazis shut it down.

After Uhl met her ski instructor husband, Sepp, in Germany, they decided to emigrate to America—specifically, to Aspen—as many other Germans and Austrians were doing at the time. After teaching ski school and eventually becoming the director, Uhl shifted her sights toward more scrumptious endeavors.

Her restaurant, Gretl’s, enhanced the on-mountain dining experience. Instead of hot dogs and hamburgers, Uhl served freshly baked desserts and homemade soups. She also transformed the order of operations, serving cold foods and desserts at the front of the food line, placing hot foods at the end so they were still warm by the time they reached the table.

Her famous strudel became popular by accident. During one snowstorm, staff was trapped inside the restaurant, so Uhl whipped up a strudel. It was so delicious, her patrons wouldn’t allow her to leave it off the menu; she eventually went through over 200 pounds of apples a day.

In 1980, Uhl handed over the business to Bonnie Rayburn, who eventually sold it to Brigitte Birrfedler. Loyalists will note that hot foods are still near the cash registers and strudel remains the star.

Edible Traditions is produced by the Aspen Historical Society. For access to the full online archives, including more than 10,000 historic images, visit AspenHistory.org or call 970.925.3721.

Article from Edible Aspen at http://edibleaspen.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/bavaria-bonnies
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